Senior English: Hamlet Notes – Tragic hero, Act by act


Hamlet is a tragic hero whose mind is a continuous battleground

(H= Hamlet)

  • Hamlet is constantly analysing his emotions and, although he is mostly play-acting with the other characters, the only time that his true feelings fully exposed is in his numerous awe-inspiring soliloquies.


  • H’s soliloquies give us an insight into his troubled mind


  • We see a reflective, grief-stricken son who is unable to carry out the act of vengeance


  • Act 1:2 – H is deeply disturbed by recent events in Denmark. In his first soliloquy, we see how his religious beliefs prevent him from committing suicide


  • Act 1:5 – Hamlet utters the words of despair ‘O cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!’ His mind is in turmoil as he thinks about what the ghost has asked him to do


  • Act 2:2 – H is filled with self-disgust. He is inspired by the actor’s passion and contemplates his own procrastination. Self-doubt is a major issue for H. He decides to seek further clarification regarding C’s guilt by having the actors enact his father’s murder. If C reacts in a certain way, then he will have his proof. H’s conscience is more at ease at this stage and less of a battleground.


  • Act 3:1 – H is deeply melancholic. He thinks about suicide but is too fearful of the consequences. He is depressed and longs to escape a life that holds nothing but misery for him


  • 3:2 – H believes the time is right for action. His mind is made up about what he must do


  • 3:3 – H comes upon C at prayer. However, his mind begins to do battle with itself – if he were to kill the king while praying, the usurper would go to heaven. This soliloquy reveals H’s frustration at being unable to commit to the act of murder. His procrastination knows no end


  • 4:4 – his state of mind is similar to 2:2. He compares his procrastination to the dynamism of Fortinbras. He knows that he has good cause and means to carry out the act of vengeance but he remains inert. He is determined to change his thoughts to ‘bloody’ ones. However, his commitment to action is not heartfelt and his mind is still in turmoil


  • 5:2 – in the play’s final scene, H is at ease with his fate and his mind is more balanced. H and Laertes forgive each other and he intervenes to prevent Horatio from taking his own life. He gets revenge on Claudius in an open and brave way. His final thoughts are not of himself but on the welfare of Denmark

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